My head is about to explode because I have made more connections in the past two hours than I have in the past year. I’ve touched on many of these ideas and concepts before in this blog, but never connected them in such a meaningful way. I hope this comes out coherently.
#1 I’ve been reading about eating disorders. Many of the stories are about anorexia nervosa and binge/purge syndrome. I admit that I had preconceived ideas about eating disorders and I have often looked at photos of women who them and thought, “she looks beautiful and healthy.” But I also feel their sense of desperation, struggle, shame and hopelessness and I wonder, “Where is the disconnect?”
#2 I have always considered anorexia nervosa and bulimia to be true disorders or mental illnesses, compared just plain old bingeing and being obese (which for me was just a sign that I am a weak, lazy person).
#3 I come from a family that prizes strength, perseverance, and health and abhors weakness, laziness, people who give up, and illness of any sort. I recognize that I sometimes feel the same way.
#4 Through work I have done for a local mental health agency, and having friends and family members with mental illness, I believe that mental illness is a continuum, and that we’re all on it.
#5 I only recently used the words “disordered eating” to describe my behavior. It was in response to a question my naturopathic physician asked me.
#6 Because I sometimes think of myself as a weak, lazy person I always look for an explanation as to why I just can’t control myself: A rebellious inner-child? Addiction to sugar? Some sort of physical imbalance? A chemical imbalance? And as I write this, I think, “there you go Karen, looking to blame your problems on someone or something else.” And as I write this I realize that the word “blame” implies that shame needs to be involved too. And when there is blame and shame, there is defensiveness. And defensiveness leads to denial.
#7 Admitting a problem requires some sort of action. I’ve made proclamations. I’ve committed to plans like Potatoes Not Prozac. I’ve received counseling. I’ve taken classes. I have been inspired to create new and unique goals. I poured a bottle of wine down the drain. But have I really followed through? Yes and no. I am eating a lot less sugar than I used to, I am drinking a whole lot less wine than I used to, and I am still working out faithfully. My waist hasn’t changed. And I still binge. And when I do, I still feel like a pathetic, weak, lazy loser.
#8 I don’t like the idea that there might be “something wrong with me.” I’ve touched on this before: I grew up in a family where a lot of accusing went on, even in the name of concern. Accusations lead to denial. “There’s nothing wrong with me, I choose to be this way, so just leave me alone.”
#9 I understand that many people who overcome one addiction really only trade it for another. I’ve read about women who, in overcoming an eating disorder, turn to drinking in order to deal with it. I’ve read about women who, after having gastric bypass surgery, become sex addicts. I know that I sometimes go shopping in order to avoid sugar. And so on. Is it that we’re all just looking to fill some emotional void or might it actually be physiological? I’ve always hated the word “addiction” because I associate it with an accusation. But I’ll use it anyway.
#10 People don’t like being sick or addicted. People don’t do it on purpose. It doesn’t feel good to say, “but I can’t help it” even when I can’t seem to help it. The idea of being able to talk myself out of it appeals to me, but after 40+ years of trying, I get that it doesn’t work. The idea of a 12-step group does not appeal to me on any level, although I know it works for many. Other support groups, both in real life and online, have been wonderful for me and I will continue to seek them out.
#11 Something else that appeals to me: neurofeedback. I’d heard about it before, but never really understood what it is until I interviewed a local psychologist who uses it to treat children with ADHD. This is what I learned:
Neurofeedback is basically a learning strategy. It is painless and non-invasive. One or more sensors are placed on the scalp and one to each ear. Brain waves are then displayed on a computer in an EEG video display, as well as by means of a video game. The person operates the video game with his/her brain. As desirable brainwave activity increases, the person is rewarded by scoring points and hearing a beep. Gradually the brain responds to the feedback that is given and a “learning” of new brain wave patterns take place. The new pattern is one that is closer to what is normally observed in people without whatever condition or disability is being addressed.
There’s a quote from the January 2005 Journal of the Child And Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America that really sums it up: “Neurofeedback meets the AACAP clinical guidelines for treatment of ADHD, seizure disorders, anxiety, depression, reading disabilities, and addictive disorders. This finding suggests that neurofeedback always should be considered as an intervention for these disorders by the clinician.”
The idea that I might have an undiagnosed mental illness is becoming easier for me to wrap my head around. The stigmas and myths associated with mental illness are being broken down. This is by no means a self-diagnosis, but the more I understand about addiction and eating disorders, the more I understand what the hell I’ve been struggling with for the past 40+ years.
And the voices in my head say:
• “She just doesn’t get it. All she has to do is eat less and exercise more.”
• “She did it once before and lost 50+ pounds, why can’t she do it now? She must not want it badly enough.”
• “Okay, she wants to call it an eating disorder or a mental illness now. Whatever.”
• “Now she wants to try some wacky thing called neurofeedback. She’s always scheming for an easy answer. That won’t work either.”